Without a doubt the most abundant duck in the world, the wild mallard is a common and pleasing sight on our canals and rivers.

A brown female mallard (front) and more colourful male 'drake' (back) A brown female mallard (front) and a more colourful male 'drake' (back)

Nearly every British child is acquainted with the mallard, even if they know it by the generic term 'duck'. Familiarity has perhaps led us to under-appreciate this attractive, adaptable and above all resilient bird.

The mallard has been domesticated for more than 2,000 years and is now so widespread in the UK that you will be hard pressed to find a river or village pond that does not support a mallard population.

The resilient ducks can make their home in any wetland habitat, including drainage dykes or fast-flowing rivers. This is largely due to the mallard's uncanny ability to adapt to almost any diet. Plants, berries, insects, shellfish and even potatoes are all fair game for this bird.

In the midsummer months that follow the breeding season, you may find yourself wondering where all of the colourful 'drakes' (male mallards) have gone. A quirk peculiar to ducks means that they moult all of their flight feathers at the same time, leaving them grounded and exceedingly vulnerable to predators.

Evolution has guaranteed some protection by ensuring the drake's bright feathers are replaced by dowdier brown ones, which give them a distinctly female appearance.

Last date edited: 17 November 2020